The push up is a centuries old exercise that is almost a total body compound movement. It builds strength primarily in the triceps and chest muscles and is a good indicator of fitness as military and even doctors sometimes use it as a measure of physical health. Though it has a myriad of variations making it a beginner as well as advanced exercise for all kinds of fit people, the standard push up is as follows: -
- Start out in a plank pose with feet about hip width apart and hands shoulder width apart. Feet need not be touching though they shouldn’t be too far either.
- Descend the entire body slowly and squeeze the shoulder blades, engage the abdominal muscles (core) and glutes for strengthening the muscles and allowing maximum contraction.
- Stop and hold your body-weight soon as your nose touches the ground and slowly rise back up to the starting position.
- A recommended rep range for beginners would be 5-10 repetitions of 2-3 sets. However it is important to remember while starting out that one should focus on proper form, no matter how less the number of repetitions, consistent training will allow more reps eventually.
- Build yourself to a certain number of reps anywhere from the range of 8-12 to build strength and eventually increase the number of sets to 2 or 3 as per fitness levels
- Those with back and shoulder issues, be it injury or anything else should consult their physician before performing such an exercise.
Most people tend to come back up too fast which does not provide the chest and triceps with the eccentric motion (where muscles lengthen) which is necessary to build overall strength. Good form always triumphs speed and number of repetitions or sets as doing 10 bad pushups will only result in gaining very little from each one whereas doing 1 good push up will result in much more muscle engagement and strength gain in your next workout.
Another common mistake is only moving the upper body or shoulders in the range of motion and completely neglecting the core and lower body. Picturing a straight line from shoulder to heels while performing the pushup will help in maintaining proper form and help prevent stress on the lower back.
For those who are unable to do pushups on the floor, a common alternative is to perform pushups on your knees. However, following the principles of progression, a much better alternative would be performing pushups at an incline i.e. doing pushups with legs on the floor and hands on an elevated surface like a bench or table. When mastered, one can move on to floor pushups and practice till perfection. For those wanting a challenge, decline pushups are the answer, instead of your hands on an elevated position, place your legs for an added challenge to the core, chest and triceps.